Australian Unit Study

Australia Unit StudyWe’ve been Down Under for two weeks, learning about the wonderful animals and geography of Australia. We could’ve gone on for several weeks more, there’s so much to learn about this wonderful continent. Here’s a peek at some of the learning activities we did.

Australian Animals
My kids love animals and it’s a great way to introduce them to learning about a new place in the world. Since Australia has so many unique and interesting animals, we learned about one or two each day of our unit study.



Other Animals of Australia

  • Platypus:  Wild Kratts Platypus Café episode.
  • Frilled-neck Lizard: We watched a great Discovery video about these lizards. Also, it is very fun to pretend to be a frilled-neck lizard. Try it.
  • Wombat:  Nat Geo video showing a pudgy, sleepy wombat.
  • A great resource for many Australian animals are the Bindi and Robert Irwin Growing Up Wild videos on YouTube. Type in “Bindi and Robert Irwin” and the name of the animal you want to learn about.

Geography of Australia 

The Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef habitat

The Outback

Filling our water table with sand turned it into a desert and we had fun identifying which animals live there and which do not. We used the wonderful Safari LTD The Land Down Under Toob animals for this activity.

For more information on our Outback set-up, visit this post. 


More Geography Resources 


More ways to learn about Australia:

geography magnet boardWe used a magnetic cookie sheet propped up in a cookbook holder and our magnetic letters to spell out “Australia”.  Each day, I changed the featured book and the animal cards.  You can find the free printable animal cards from Walk Beside Me.

We made good use of the section in our library that had books on various Australian animals and culture. Each day, we read the book that matched the specific animal we were learning about, as well as a book on another aspect of Australia, such as The Sydney Opera House and the Aboriginal People.

basket of books

Our handwriting practice used the words we were learning:  Australia, koala, kangaroo, coral reef and more, in the stage of handwriting for each particular child:  tracing letters for my 4 year old, printing for my 6 year old and cursive for my 8 year old. One day, we painted our words with cotton swabs.

painting handwriting

  • For cooking ideas, stop by The Educator’s Spin On It for their Around the World in 12 Dishes: Australia!
    For even more resources, follow my Australian Unit Study pin board on Pinterest.

    Thank you to our sponsor, Bravewriter. We’ve been using the Bravewriter program this year and it has changed the way we homeschool.


    This post contains affiliate links to Amazon. When you click on a product and make a purchase, I earn a small commission, which helps me fund this site and support my family. It does not increase the cost of the product to you, the consumer. Thank you!

Anime Momotaro: A Japanese Folktale, at Imagination Stage

Anime Momotaro at Imagination Stage

Tia Shearer as Nakamon, Rafael Untalan as Daimon, Jacob Yeh as Momotaro, Phillip Reid as Monmon. Photo credit: Margot Schulman.

A baby inside a peach.  “Invisible” ninjas that manipulate the props. Sound effects galore. An action packed adventure and a humorous adaptation of a ancient Japanese folktale paired with the modern culture of Japanese animation. That is what Anime Momotaro is all about and more.

In the folktale, a childless couple finds a peach floating down the river. As they are about to eat it, a baby emerges. They are thrilled to raise the child they always wanted. They name him Momotaro (momo means peach in Japanese and taro is a popular boy’s name). Momotaro grows up strong and brave and decides to take on the Ogres that have been stealing things and harassing the people of his village. He sets out with a sword from his father and a bag of millet cakes from his mother. Along his journey, he shares the cakes and befriends a dog, a monkey and a pheasant. Together, the four friends travel to the Ogres’ island.

Momotaro and his mother on stage

Tia Shearer and Jacob Yeh. Photo credit: Margot Schulman.

Being a folktale, there are many versions of Momotaro, but in most, the Ogres are defeated in a violent battle at the end. In the stage production, the story was deliberately changed to emphasize the bullying aspect of the Ogres and the ending provides an alternative solution to dealing with bullies:   Friendship and cooperation triumph.

Alvin Chan and Eric Johnson adapted the folktale for the stage, first at Honolulu Theatre for Youth and now at Imagination Stage, known for its’  award-winning productions and arts education programs, located in Bethesda, Maryland.

Chan and Johnson took the modern elements of anime, such as color, sound effects, action, and movement and brought them to the stage. It is difficult to describe how very well the actors portray the cartoon elements on stage. You will just have to see for yourselves.

You don’t have to be a fan of anime to appreciate Anime Momotaro. My collective anime experiences are few, but I enjoyed this production immensely.  Like everything else I’ve seen at Imagination Stage, it was impeccably well done and highly entertaining.  Everything from the cast, to the creative team, the set and the lighting brought together a professional and polished production.

And, of course, bringing literature together with a stage production provides many learning opportunities for kids, both before and after viewing.

To learn more about Japan…

To learn more about the character traits of Anime Momotaro…

  • Read  the story of Momotaro  prior to the show. We talked about the messages in the story and Momotaro’s strong character traits: honoring his parents, helping his community, sharing with his friends and working together to help solve a problem.

  • Investigate bullying and identify your heroes with the study guide from the creators of Anime Momotaro.
Anime Momotaro (Peach Boy) at Imagination Stage

Tia Shearer, Jacob Yeh and Phillip Reid. Photo credit: Margot Schulman.

Anime Momotaro runs at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland from January 30 through March 10, 2013. Best for ages 5 to 10. Tickets are $12 to $25 and may be purchased on line at Group rates and sensory friendly performances are available.

03 Ogres AnimeMomotaro IStage

Phillip Reid and Tia Shearer. Photo credit: Margot Schulman.

 Imagination Stage provided me with tickets to the show.  All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links for books from Amazon. For my full disclosure policy, click here

Learning With Literature: The Snowy Day

 The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is a Caldecott winner and a Before-Five-In-a-Row selection.  And this year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of this wonderful book. Quite significant, is that it is the first children’s book to have an African American lead character.

I have a very clear memory of having it read to me as a child.  I remember how magical the book seemed.  The giant mountains of snow and Peter, so small in comparison, discovering the wonderfulness of playing in new snow.  And now I wonder what books will stand out for my kids when they are older.

My 5 year old, The Queen Bee, and I  spent a few days learning with this book to prepare for our trip to see the play at a wonderful local theatre, Adventure Theatre, at historic Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Maryland.  And what a production it was.  If you are anywhere near the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, I highly recommend this production.  I have never seen anything at Adventure Theatre that wasn’t terrific, but this was exceptional.

After the show:  Alan Wiggins, who played Peter, and Calvin McCullough, who played the roles of Harold and Arnold in Adventure Theatre’s production of The Snowy Day.


Click here for a great video of a reading of The Snowy Day.  This can also be found on Adventure Theatre’s website.

In the days before the play, we did a snowman math activity with dot-a-dot markers, inspired by Rachel at I Heart Crafty Things.

The learning task for my daughter was to sound out the number words on the pink cards that she did not know.  She then made a fun snowman for each number and decorated it. Then she tried to teach her 3 year old brother number recognition but he was more interested in doing this with the dot-a-dot markers:

“Well, good for him!”, I thought, pleased beyond measure that he is not eating them, drawing all over his body with them or using them to color one of his siblings or our pets. Moving on…

One of our favorite activities was finding this great to-along book:  Thomas’ Snowsuit by Robert Munsch. Thomas refused to put on his snowsuit and struggles ensue. His teacher winds up wearing the snowsuit.  You really must go and listen to the author read this and many more of his other books on his website. He is hilarious. My 7 year old has stayed up late into the night listening to these on the lap top in his bed. He can now recite many of the stories from memory. They are all truly silly and fun and Munsch is a wonderfully animated storyteller, which comes through, even in these audio recordings.

More Snowy Day Activities

Sparkly snow play dough, inspired by Ten Kids and a Dog.  This was very easy to make.  You add glitter to the basic dough recipe. I made the kids’ each a little jar for their Christmas stockings and they’ve played with it many times since.

Shaving cream snow and dollhouse figures to act out the story. We manipulated the dolls feet in the shaving cream to make tracks like Peter did in the book. I also gave each child a popsicle stick to make a track in the snow, like Peter.  Can’t you see Peter underneath all of this shaving cream snow?  No. Well, he’s in there. Shaving cream is messy and fun and both my 5 and 3 year olds and a visiting friend had a great time with this.

Melting Ice and Freezing Letters and Numbers Activity  We had a great time learning about how ice melts, as well as playing with plastic letters and numbers frozen in a block of ice to make words and math equations.  You can read more about those activities here or click on one of the photos below.

You can find more books with activities to go along on our Learning With Literature page. Next up in our Learning with Literature series, The Mitten, by Jan Brett.

Wanna see where I hang out?  Check out these awesome linky parties for more great ideas from these fabulous momma bloggers. 

F.I.A.R. The Giraffe That Walked To Paris

We’re back in the swing of things with Five in a Row! Although we didn’t complete all the Volume I books, I decided to delve into Volume II with this wonderful story by Nancy Milton.  The Giraffe That Walked to Paris is based on the true story of a giraffe given by the Egyptian Pasha to the King of France in 1827.  The giraffe travels by boat from Egypt to the south of France, then walks to Paris with her handlers. La Girafe, as she is known to the people of France, was very popular. Most people in France at that time had never seen a giraffe.

It was challenging to find this out of print book. Prices on Amazon and other sites for a used copy were too steep. Our library didn’t have it. We found it a library in a neighboring county and did an informal inter-library loan, wherein a friend that lives in that county, ahem, checked it out for us. Thanks, JavaMom!

I decided to have the kids make a modified lapbook.  What is that, you ask?  Well, lapbooks are usually a two page spread in an open file folder.  This is more like a multiple page lapbook.  It also can contain all the other paperwork that accumulates for the work we did for this particular book (coloring pages, maps, etc.).

I found this beautiful cover and a couple of items for the inside at Aussie Pumpkin Patch. Other lapbook items were found here. And some I made on my own, like the stagecoach picture and the “patient” and “impatient” vocabulary words.

 Social Studies Activities

  • We made French and Egyptian flags for our lapbook.
  • Discussed citizenship and watched a Citizenship video on BrainPopJr. (subscription required; check out their free trial).
  • Pin-punched around the perimeter of a map of Africa. This is an easy continent to memorize by seeing the mere shape of it, so I wanted my kids to remember it. A friend told me about the Montessori activity of pin punching for geography. A great sensory experience and the kids are much more able to be accurate with the little curves around a continent vs. using scissors (see photos below).
  • Looked at images on the internet of stagecoaches.

Pinpunching around the continent of Africa, using an unfolded paperclip on a foam mat.

Pinpunching also works great on the carpet.

The kids then glued their pinpunched African continent to a piece of paper and wrote Africa on it. I also had them find and label Egypt before placing this in their Giraffe lapbook.

Language Arts Activities

  • We watched a French language DVD from our library, called Little Pim.  Sort of like a Baby Einstein or Signing Times type of format, spoken in French with English translation subtitles.
  • We listened to an on-line audio of Arabic (the language of Egypt).
  • Used Google Translator to translate simple sentences into French and Arabic (“Hello, my name is ________.  I am ____ years old.”)  I love exposing my kids early to other languages. My parents did that for me (with French) and I remained interested in it throughout my entire childhood.
  • Vocabulary words:  Stagecoach, patient, impatient, citizen.

Measuring La Girafe and more.

Math Activities

  • On a long piece of butcher paper (less than $10/roll at Costco and oh-so-many uses), we measured 11 feet (the height of La Girafe when she traveled to France), 15 feet (the height of the average full grown female giraffe), and then the heights of everyone in our family. We then hung this from our upstairs hallway, which overlooks our family room. The kids were thrilled to know that if we ever get a pet giraffe, it can live in our family room. Had we not been able to hang this up inside, I think we would have (temporarily) hung it outside from a second story window. Hey, the neighbors already think we are “those weird homeschoolers”, so why not?
  • Counting with my 5 year old:  41 days (the time it took for La Girafe to walk from Marseilles to Paris).
  • Counting with my 7 year old: Using a set of base 10 counters, figured out 425 (miles on foot that La Girafe traveled) and 1700 (miles she traveled by sea). This is just where he is at with math right now, learning about place value, so this was a way to incorporate that into our Five in a Row studies this week.

Base Ten counters: 4 hundred, twenty, five.

Science Activities

  • Learned all about giraffes by watching an on-line National Geographic video and looking at a website with lots of giraffe facts.
  • Made a fold-out for our lapbook on what giraffes eat and drink.

Art Activities

Other Activities

  • Character Traits: Impatience and Patience. We defined these as “having a hard time waiting” and “able to wait”, respectively. As a go-along for this concept, we watched some very odd videos of The Tortoise and The Hare on YouTube. I recommend getting the book from the library instead.
  • Supplemental Book:  Zarafa by Judith St. George.  This is basically another version of the same story, and a very enjoyable one.

You can find many of the internet links that I used for rowing this book on my “Giraffe That Walked to Paris” Pinterest Board.

We really enjoyed this book and we look forward to seeing some real giraffes sometime.  Unfortunately, the zoo nearest to us does not have giraffes. Isn’t that sad? A zoo without giraffes. What would the King of France think about that?

Snack Cup Jelly Fish Craft

We love Jelly Fish! From our Five in a Row book, Night of the Moonjellies to our R.E.A.L. Science Life curriculum studying the cnidarians, to our trip to the Baltimore Aquarium to see them, we just can’t seem to get enough.

The Creek Kids wanted to make some jellyfish, so I decided to come up with a way to do that using what we already had on hand.

We started with a stack of snack cups, like those that come with applesauce or fruit, a pile of tissue paper, some Mod Podge glue and some paint brushes.

I cut up pieces of tissue paper and the kids painted on a layer of Mod Podge on the outside of a snack cup, pressed on the tissue paper, then painted another layer of Mod Podge over top. They continued doing this until it was completely covered.

We let them dry on our re-purposed baby bottle drying rack.

Once dry, I made a tiny slit with the sharp end of a scissors and inserted a piece of string or yarn to hang them up with later.

Then we turned them over and glued down the edges of the tissue paper to the inside of the snack cup. Next we spread our glue on the bottom of the cup and placed long, skinny pieces of tissue paper on the glue. We pressed them in with the paint brush so they wouldn’t stick to our hands.

Let dry, then add some googly eyes if you want to, and you have jelly fish!